Current Events: Why the COVID-19 Vaccine Works, with Michael Teng, PhD

The light at the end of a very dark tunnel has arrived with the release of COVID-19 vaccines. Tampa General Hospital has been chosen to be one of five hospitals to participate in the state’s pilot program for the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine because of the large population TGH serves and its ability to maintain ultra-cold storage of the vaccine. The shipment of Pfizer doses arrived on December 14, 2020. Listen to Michael Teng, PhD, a virologist with USF Health, explain why the mRNA vaccine works to combat COVID-19.

Video by Allison Long





Current Events: Staying Healthy Against Viruses, with Meredith Plant, MD

February 06, 2020

At USF Health, we are always concerned for the well-being of our patients, students, and all others on the USF Health Team. We are aware of a possible epidemic of a new virus, coronavirus, dubbed 2019-nCoV, but in the United States, you are much more likely to get influenza B — the flu — than any other virus. There is still so much that is unknown about the coronavirus, so it’s important to protect yourself from the viruses we can protect ourselves from by getting a flu shot, for example — it’s still not too late. Even though there is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus, some of the prevention tips are the same for most viruses. USF Health pediatrician, Meredith Plant, MD, advises that everyone should wash their hands and get plenty of sleep in order to improve your chances of staying healthy.

A novel 2019 coronavirus has emerged in China.  This virus originated in a seafood and animal market in Wuhan city and is capable of person-to-person transmission.  The US has started screening travelers arriving from China at several major airports. To date, China has reported 1300 confirmed cases of this 2019 coronavirus infection but the real number is likely higher. So far, 41 patients have died, with older age and underlying disease as cofactors. Cases are confirmed outside of China, with all linking to travelers from Wuhan.  The first case in the United States, reported in Washington State, was recognized on January 20, 2020.


Patients with confirmed 2019 coronavirus infection generally experience a mild respiratory illness with symptoms of:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

Symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure. The virus can cause pneumonia and in severe cases there can be death (4%).


Person-to-person spread is believed to occur via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.  While CDC considers this a serious public health concern, based on current information, the immediate health risk from 2019 coronavirus to the general American public is considered low at this time.1


There is currently no vaccine to prevent 2019 coronavirus infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.  Preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, include hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you have fever, cough or difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share your previous travel history with your health care provider.


If you have symptoms of a dry cough, fever or shortness of breath:

  • USF students should contact USF Student Health Services at 4107 USF Cedar Cir, Tampa, FL 33620, phone (813) 974-2331.
  • Others contact your primary care provider
  • If severely ill, call 911 or present to an emergency department and explain your travel history.

 You can learn more information by visiting these websites:





Current Events: Vaping, with John Dunning, MD

November 01, 2019

Vaping, or smoking electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), has been the most talked about trend among teens and ex-smokers of all ages for a number of years. In 2015, the U.S. surgeon general reported, “E-cigarette use has increased considerably in recent years, growing an astounding 900% among high school students from 2011 to 2015. These products are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States, surpassing conventional tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and hookahs.” E-cigarettes have also been marketed as “healthier” than smoking, which draws in an audience of smokers who are trying to quit. The problem is, the scientific community is still working to understand what chemicals are in e-cigarettes and how it affects your body. Even if there are fewer chemicals in e-cigarettes than the 7,000 found in cigarettes, John Dunning, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon for USF Health, points out that vaping still, “introduces foreign chemicals into the airways and into the lung tissue” and that is not beneficial for your body. Vaping has resurfaced in the news again because according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of October 29, 2019, 1,888 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) have been reported to CDC from 49 states (all except Alaska), the District of Columbia, and 1 U.S. territory and thirty-seven deaths have been confirmed in 24 states.


Current Events: Hepatitis A Outbreak, with Dr. Sally Alrabaa

Aug 13, 2019

On August 1st, 2019, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees declared a Public Health Emergency due to the current national outbreak of hepatitis A. Reported cases to the Florida Department of Health have been rising dramatically since 2016. By 2018, there were 548 reported cases of hepatitis A and less than a year later, the number of reported cases have already skyrocketed to 2,034. News Channel 8 reported that the Tampa Bay area has been the most significant contributor to this year’s cases.  Sally Alrabaa, MBBS, Director of Clinical Infectious Disease and Associate Professor for USF Health’s Morsani College of Medicine says that the public’s health is at risk because, “if a small amount can cause the disease, then by definition, it’s highly infectious, meaning that it doesn’t take much for a person to catch the infection.” The most common way to catch hepatitis A is by ingesting contaminated food or water and the first signs of an infection is similar to the flu: fatigue, fever, and nausea.  As the virus affects more liver cells, symptoms of liver disfunction appear. The infected person’s urine will turn very dark and their eyes will be yellow, or jaundiced. The Florida Department of Health reported that since January 1, 2018, 97% of people with hepatitis A had never received a documented dose of hepatitis A vaccine. Adults are encouraged to get vaccinated if they were not as a child to protect themselves and the community from hepatitis A.

Graphic of reported cases of Hepatitis A in Florida from



Current Events: MMR Vaccine Virus Shedding, with Meredith Plant, MD

July 03, 2019

According to the Center for Disease Control, from January 1 to June 27, 2019, 1,095 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 28 states. This is an increase of 18 cases from the previous week. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. There are numerous antivaccine myths to debunk, most notably is the myth that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism. Meredith Plant, MD, USF Health pediatrician, helps to debunk the myth around virus shedding after receiving the MMR vaccine. The myth claims that there is a shedding period in which the virus is coming off of the person who was recently vaccinated and can infect the people around them. The measles virus is incredibly contagious, but only from someone infected with measles and not someone vaccinated against it. Myth debunked.





Current Events: Manikins Versus Cadavers, with Dr. Haru Okuda

May 21, 2019

A National Geographic article titled, “Digital Cadavers are Replacing Real Ones but Should They?” compares the pros and cons of simulation technology and cadavers. The article talks about the importance of cadavers for the empathy they teach medical students. “When I trained, I spent a semester with a person who had donated themselves to science and to medicine and we learned beyond the anatomy,” says Yasuharu “Haru” Okuda, MD, FACEP, FSSH, executive director of the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) and executive director of USF Health Interprofessional Education and Practice (IPEP). “What it taught me was an appreciation for the human being and the human spirit and a true connection with that individual. I think about her family and her life and it did teach me a lot of empathy.” Cadavers also teach the skill of dissection more effectively than through simulation. The benefit of simulation technology is that it allows for a more efficient ability to learn the knowledge component around gross anatomy. “I think it does that better probably than the traditional cadaver-based anatomy,” says Dr. Okuda. The experience that can only come from training on cadavers is not leaving the medical education world, it’s just now working together with the benefits of technology to create the best training possible for future health care professionals.





Current Events: Pricing Transparency, with Dr. Kevin Sneed

January 10, 2019

On January 1st, a new federal rule went into affect which requires hospitals to post a list of standard patient charges online and update it on an annual basis at minimum. These list of charges have always been available to the public, but it was not required to be accessible online or in a format that’s easily processed by computers. “I think if we can get to a point where we have greater transparency, I truly believe that we can begin to work on improving the price cost of medication as opposed to being a subject to it,” Kevin Sneed, PharmD, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean of the College of Pharmacy said.




Current Events: Food Safety

November 27, 2018

Anyone who watches the news or scrolls through social media knows that reports of foodborne illnesses have been relentless over the last couple years. It seems that every other month, a new food product is being recalled. Chipotle Mexican Grill has been hit multiple times, with the most recent outbreak in August sickening over 700 customers. This outbreak in Ohio was due to clostridium perfringens, a foodborne disease that occurs when food is left at an unsafe temperature. Romaine lettuce is currently back in the spotlight with 54 people from 12 different states falling ill due to E. coli infections. The details of this case are still being investigated. While it may seem that foodborne illnesses are on the rise, Jill Roberts, PhD, assistant professor in the department of Public Health, thinks, “we’re just getting better at finding them. The laboratory is better, the surveillance systems are better, but also our media is much better.” News is spread instantly and broadly thanks to social media, but it doesn’t make food safety any less important.





Current Events: The Importance of Vaccinations

August 24, 2018

According to the Center for Disease Control, as of August 11, 2018, there have been 124 individual cases of measles confirmed in 22 states and the District of Colombia. Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine Professor at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, Jose Montero, MD and Jill Roberts, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Public Health, explain the importance of vaccinations.


“I think what we have is a couple generations of people living now who have not seen measles, who have not seen it as a threat, and therefore, are questioning if vaccines are really needed,” says Montero. In addition, false data spreads far and wide on social media and sometimes is endorsed by celebrities, and it’s difficult for experts to combat. “Every single public health, medical, nursing, government agency in every country on the planet recommends vaccination. All of them. There’s a reason for that. It’s best practices, it’s efficacious, it’s safe, and that’s the best way to protect your kids from preventable diseases,” says Roberts.




Current Events: Amazon is Disrupting Health Care, with Dr. Kevin Sneed

July 13, 2018

Amazon announced a partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to address the need for better health care and how it’s delivered to its U.S. employees. “Health care and education are probably the last two areas that have really not been disrupted in a major manner,” says Kevin Sneed, PharmD, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean of the College of Pharmacy. It is unknown what areas of the health care industry will be disrupted, but there is speculation that pharmacy will be one. According to Dr. Sneed, Amazon’s presence in pharmacy would be a positive one because, “the patient will be much more empowered and eventually, the role of the pharmacist will be much more important in terms of engaging a patient as a clinician and not so much in dispensing product to the patient.”




Current Events: The Global Nursing Shortage, with Dr. Victoria Rich

May 22, 2018

“By 2025 we’re going to be short over 56,000 registered nurses within the state of Florida,” says Victoria Rich, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the College of Nursing, senior associate vice president of USF Health, and nursing professor. This shortage is a problem around the world and it’s not because of a lack of interest in the profession. Thanks to medical advancements, people are living longer and that means living with chronic illness, taking multiple medications, and needing more complex care. “You need more nurses who understand that and can think in a complex way,” Dr. Rich says.




Current Events: Safety and Preparedness Management with Don Mullins

November 30, 2017

“The strength of USF and USF Health is its people,” said Don Mullins, director of safety and preparedness for USF Health, referring to the challenges faced by the organization while preparing for a severe storm like Hurricane Irma and its aftermath.

Don Mullins, who joined USF Health three years ago, coordinates disaster preparedness efforts among emergency management, university police, and facilities management at the University of South Florida, including the faculty physicians and staff -at the Morsani Center for Advanced Health Care.


Bonded not just by profession but by purpose, the USF Health community teamed up with key leaders throughout Tampa Bay to provide humanitarian relief.
“It really comes down to coordination and having good working relationships with everyone, both our internal and external partners,” he said.
As soon as radar began to detect impending storms, Mullins’ safety protocols were put to the test. Mullins worked closely with teams that began by assessing community needs and coordinating the pick-up and delivery of goods and medications. Soon after Hurricane Irma, which was forecast to cause much destruction, medical attention was readily available at USF Health patient care sites and nearby shelters.
“We know that for some of our clients, like our obstetrics and gynecology and cancer patients and some other types of patients, delaying care is detrimental to their long-term health. We know that being closed is not the best option for those patients, and so our number one priority during Irma was to open our doors and continue to provide care,” Mullins said.
Staffing the clinic was part of Mullins’ emergency preparedness plan. The university closed early to allow USF support staff and clinicians time to prepare their families and homes for the impending storm.
“Every one of us wants to make sure that our own families are taken care of so that when the order comes – we’re ready to go back and serve our communities — that we’re capable of doing that without feeling like we are abandoning our families.”



The care that USF Health provided reached far beyond campus and the Tampa Bay region. As locals began to recover from Irma, Puerto Ricans confronted the ravages of Hurricane Maria. Again, having strong internal and external relationships, with a strong safety protocol and disaster relief plan in place allowed USF Health to extend health care to communities on the island, where roads were full of debris and people were cut off from running water and electricity
“Our folks on the ground, from USF, really focused on helping those people who had little access to health care.” Mullins said.
Hurricane Maria left rural areas in ruin, with limited medical facilities and medications. Working with traditional partners such as Tampa General Hospital, Florida Hospital and BayCare, and not-so-common partners such as Jabil and the Tampa Bay Rays, USF Health was able to send tons of donated medicine, specialty baby formula and medical supplies, as well as faculty physicians to help provide care providers.
“Partnerships are the hallmark of what makes USF Health so effective in all the communities where we work.”
Once supplies arrived on the island, distribution was a challenge. The island’s infrastructure was severely damaged and daily shipments of basic supplies were halted.
“By working with community partnerships, we were able to actually get stuff distributed, and that’s what makes our approach so powerful,” Mullins said.


Recovery is still underway in some areas, but knowing that USF Health and key partnerships in Tampa Bay can operate effectively together in relief efforts is definitely a plan to draw upon in the future. Each deployment has its own set of challenges and learning lessons.
“Maintaining those collaborative relationships is the cornerstone to making sure that we’re ready to respond when we’re called upon next time,” Mullins said.



USF Health: To envision and implement the future of health.

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